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WELL. It turns out that Supertrick does a whole lot more than blocking popups. It blocks all images served from sites like Linkshare, Commission Junction, and BeFree. EVEN WORSE, it even prevents your sponsor sites from loading if someone chooses to click on your affiliate links (text or otherwise) -- if someone clicks the link, it comes back with a "Cannot find server" error.
In all likelihood, most people who install this software have no idea of the extent of its reaches. As I mentioned, they just mention it as preventing pop-up ads, which is something that is probably appealing to most folks. I'm sure that when they get a 'cannot find server' error, they don't realize that this is being caused by Supertrick. They would need to go into their HOST file on their computer to see that things like www.qksrv.net, etc are being blocked, and even then how would the average Joe know that qksrv.net has anything to do with the sponsor site they are trying to reach?
Just how many people are using programs like these? Am I panicking over nothing?
Is there any way to override it? For example, could you use some sort of url redirection program to prevent the software from knowing that the site you are visiting came through the commission junction network?
Is there anything at all that we, as affiliate marketers, can do to make sure that our pages display the way we want, or, at the very least, that our links out function?
ANY help that anyone can provide will be GREATLY appreciated!
[edited by: Drastic at 7:03 pm (utc) on July 24, 2003]
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Educate people, and that's the hardest task of all. The loophole that they're exploiting is the permission you grant to those folks to install the software. They're hoping you install it without a second thought. That's why they bundle so many programs together.
>>Just how many people are using programs like these? Am I panicking over nothing?
Well, Kazaa and Kazaa Lite are in the top ten of the most downloaded programs on the web...
No, you're not. What you're seeing is the tip of an ugly iceberg that's a serious and growing problem for anyone who uses affiliate links to help pay their bills.
SuperTrick is not where the problem starts, but it's certainly contributing to the mess. The problem originates partly with sites that make excessive, abusive use of popups, but even more with outside entities that install "adware" programs that spawn countless more popups, often keyed in some way to the content of the sites people are visiting. People like me call them scumware, thiefware, parasiteware, and a host of other uncomplimentary names, because they intrude into our sales processes and intercept commissions that they have not earned. (I'll stop there, because what parasiteware does to merchant-affiliate relationships is a discussion unto itself.)
Despite claims that users "choose" to download these programs, seldom could it be called informed consent. It's funny how the parasites wrap themselves in the flag of "user choice" when anyone criticizes their tactics, but they don't honor it at the other end when the user would like to remove the program from their system. Many of the popup-spawning adware programs are exceedingly difficult to remove from one's system, even for experienced users. It's often easier for frustrated users to just install popup blockers than to clean out the true source(s) of their popup problem.
Some blockers do a lot more than just block popups. Some of them stop any kind of new window, even those that should be opened by coding such as target="_blank" . Some of them block anything that has an affiliate tracking code in it, even text links.
Some affiliates I know at another board have been doing some tracking of their own, and some estimate that at least 20% of their site visitors are infected with one or more programs that will either prevent their site visitors from following their affiliate links, or else intercept the visitor and divert sales commissions to a party other than the one whose promotions actually deserve it.
Kazaa installs an adware program that spawns popups, Kazaa Lite provides a popup blocker that blocks a lot more than just popups, many other entities are doing the same thing, and affiliate inks that help to pay the bills for some very good sites are getting caught in the crossfire. The whole thing is a mess and it will get worse before it gets better.
Just wondering, are you surprised that such a company, which rips off record companies and movie studios, would be engaging in other questionable activities?
I have a theory on a way to make tracking links break through Kazaa's modified hosts file. The hosts file currently blocks www.cj.com, www.qksrv.net, etc. What if CJ and other affiliate programs used a wildcard dns on their servers so *.qksrv.net, screwkazaa.qksrv.net would all resolve to qksrv.net. I use wildcard dns on some of my sites as subdomains. From what I read the hosts file treats subdomains as individual sites and does not support wildcards so it would be impossible for kazaa to block anythingpossible.qksrv.net. This means that links would always work.
CJ has stated that their next update will include the generation of qksrv.net links with random subdomains. Kazaa can modify the hosts file all they want and will never be able to block the links!
The only problem with this approach will be if the affiliate networ starts changing the IPs of their servers.
I get around it by running all of my affiliate ads through my ad management scripts since they reference my own server as the link and go from there. I've had no problems seeing and using my own ad links despite having Supertrick on my computer because of this.
So help is on the way. Atleast for CJ affiliate links. I have not heard from the other networks how they are planning to address the issue. I assume if it works the others will just follow CJ's lead.
BE advised also that many of the popular adware and anti-spyware programs also block affiliate links or lead un-savvy surfers to believe affiliate cookies are "bad" and should be deleted. There is a heated debate on the fact that one of the most popular programs out there does this too. This is a program a lot of affiliates promote so if you promote it you could be shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to affiliate income. Make some money promoting this software - then lose some commiss when your surfers delete all your other affiliate cookies.
I emailed Linkshare and BeFree about this problem -- got no answer from BeFree, and the answer from Linkshare was totally useless -- the person who responded told me how to modify my host file to remove the section that blocks Linkshare links. I already *know* how to do that - my concern is for all of my customer base who does not (and may not even realize there is a problem - they probably just think the links don't work) -- duh! When I wrote back to Linkshare to explain that they did not address the actual issue I, of course, got no response.
I was thinking that a link redirection script might solve the link problems (although not the blocked images) -- but I was unable to find a php or perl script that would do what I want, although I know they exist.
Does anyone know of a script that does a redirect where you don't have to set up a database (or flat file) in advance with the links you are using, but instead can just access the program and have it redirect you to any link just by calling it like follows: http://www.yourdomain.com/redirectscript.php? http://www.domainyoureallywanttogoto.com?
Also, Catalyst -- can you please tell us just which program it is that is promoted by a lot of affiliates but is hurting us all so we are fully aware of what NOT to be promoting?
Thanks to all for your help!
[edited by: engine at 8:09 pm (utc) on July 24, 2003]
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But there was an EXTRMELY heated thread about one of the most popular ones. One of the longest, funniest and saddest posts I have ever read. We are giving the company a few days to see if they will change the software. I also alerted Todd about it to see if there is anything CJ can do to work with these companies so qksrv links are not targeted.
There are actually several threads on different boards I am involved in relating to this issue. Let me know if anyone wants and I can give you the links. They won't let me post them here. Also let me know if you are an AM cuz if you are there is a private affiliate manager only forum where I have all the links to issues like this and other threats to affiliate commissions (like opening links in "new" windows) all in one place.
I am seriously considering starting the 1st affiliate marketing blog so I can post all the important new issues in one place to try to help everyone. What do you think?
Agreed. I believe I have this adware and every time I do a scan with it, it encourages me to delete all tracking cookies, almost all of which are affiliate cookies.
Also be aware that one of the most popular personal firewall software has a default in its parental controls setting to block all links to Commission Junction because it considers the entire network to be a gambling site. Thus, anyone surfing with this default in place is blocked from following any CJ affiliate links.
'Why would I do such a thing?' you may ask. It is because I intend on navigating to those sites (and only those sites) that I want to navigate to; and because I don't need any help from folks who are trying to make a living off of coercing me to visit sites I never intended to visit, thank you very much.
The main contention I hear against Supertrick and other like programs is that the average joe user doesn't know what it is doing or how to undo it. Well, guess what, this is the complaint that is launched against the affiliate advertising in the first place, and the very reasoning behind such a software as Supertrick.
The average joe user didn't ask to be sent to 5 sites that try to sell him things based on demographical information he never intended to expose (and in all liklihood, doesn't even realize has been exposed). He didn't ask for tracking cookies to be placed on his machine. &c., &c. And he probably doesn't know how to avoid these things either. Enter Supertrick and like programs.
In short, one has to justify the stealing of information, the misdirection, and everything else that is associated with affiliate advertising (granted, not all affiliate advertisers engage in such, but that doesn't negate the fact that there are thousands who do), before they can be peeved about someone putting an end to it.
Well, that's my rant. Forgive me if I've given any undue offense by it. I readily admit of my ignorance on many matters, and perhaps this is yet another practical demonstration. So please don't take my rant as a personal attack against anyone, and for that matter, don't take it too seriously either; just take it with a grain of salt.
For instance, nobody is stealing information, and nobody is spying on you with a cookie. All a cookie does is tell a web site that you voluntarily clicked a link to visit another site to do some shopping.
The first site makes a commission upon a sale, the visitor gets some shopping joy out of it, and the ecommerce site makes a sale. It's as simple and honest as that.
There is nothing dangerous about cookies but as is the case with so many other things, people find it easier to be afraid of things they don't understand as opposed to taking a moment to learn something about it.
When you visit a web site, the server is serving you files. When you click a link to visit another page of that site, the server has no idea that you have been there before- it treats you as a brand new visitor and serves you more files. A peek into the logs may show 40 visitors but in fact there may only have been 5.
Imagine a person who has no memory of what occurred 2 seconds ago. Now, imagine that person being visited by another person, and he takes a piece of paper and assigns a random name to that visitor so that 2 seconds later he will not forget that he has already met that visitor. That is a web site, no memory, and the paper with the random name on it is the cookie, an attempt to remember who has been there. That's all it is. Nothing dangerous or intrusive.
I'm afraid you have misunderstood my admission of ignorance about many things, as an admission of ignorance regarding the particulars of e-commerce, especially of affiliate advertising. Well, I am ignorant about many of the aspects of e-commerce and affiliate advertising, that is true. However, I am not ignorant--in fact, I would say I'm rather versed--in the end user aspects.
For instance, most tracking cookies do not just, "tell a web site that you voluntarily clicked a link to visit another site to do some shopping." They are the means by which information is gathered for customer demographics, and in most cases, they have a uid by which the individual end user who has received the cookie is 'tagged' for future advertising (and in many cases, cross'd against a mailing database).
Some affiliate softwares even install themselves locally through ActiveX controls and keep a history of the individual user's browsing habits in the Windows registry (without the end user's knowledge) and periodically send this information (without the end user's knowledge) to their servers (Cf. Gator).
Affiliate programs present this as something the user wants--"customize the way you use the web!", "get the most out of your internet time!"--when in actuality the end user never asked for it or even know what is going on; and the promises end up translating into "everytime you visit X site, you'll be offered to buy a camera, a TV and DVDs since our spying indicates that you have a habit of browsing fujifilm.com, PioneerTVs.com and BuyDVDs.com."
As I said, I grant that there are many legitimate affiliate advertising programs / advertisers that don't stoop to such levels (and I note that they usually have non-obtrusive banners rather than popunders and other gimmicks). These are the sites I do not block through the HOSTS file. But that doesn't negate that fact that many (too many!) do in fact use such tactics.
Any case, I hope nobody takes personal offense at my rantings, as they are not directed at anyone in particular. If you are a legitimate advertiser, then more power to you, and I'll likely follow your links if you just ask me nicely. :)
even install themselves locally through ActiveX controls
Um, that's like Porn dialers. I was reading about those earlier today. That type of active x browser hijacking has nothing to do with this discussion. It is not relevant to this discussion. The discussion is about links.
Gator isn't affiliate related, it's just advertising. Gator (and spyware, by extension) has nothing to do with this topic.
Affiliate links., in the context of this discussion are just that, links that a visitor voluntarily clicks on to visit another web site.
Redirects- that doesn't have anything to do with affiliate links.
Additionally, this discussion has nothing to do with crack site redirects, or porn site active x browser hijackers that install dialers.
Have you ever visited the Commission Junction web site? This discussion is about links (links) to legitimate businesses like patagonia, jockey, jcpenney, jcrew, a pea in the pod maternity clothes...
Links, that's all.
I haven't known of hitbox, webtrends, tribalfusion, adclick, fastclick, &c. to be associated with porn dialers or crack site redirectors. All of the above mentioned affiliates have tracking cookies with a (globally unique, AFAIK) bid or uid. They do not usually have obtrusive advertising, though (and I'm not really too concerned about demographical data), so I allow them.
But my point was that the average joe end user doesn't even know that the cookies exist or what they are for. By many that would be construed as information piracy. They would argue that just because you or I don't think that the information should be confidential, doesn't give you or I the right to it; that they own it unless they explicitly say otherwise. They would argue that just like you can't publish a picture of them on the internet without their permission, you can't post what site's they been browsing, either. But that of course is a whole 'nother discussion, and gets into some ethical (and judicial) gray area.
If all that is being spoken of here are optional links and banners to site-related content, then please forgive my ranting, and pardon my ignorance! I've nothing in the least against such a form of advertising and am all for it (in fact, I want to see it replace all the obstrusive advertising I was thinking of). :)
Not sure how it would affect indexing or cross referencing...but mabye that would be a viable solution?
Have you tried inserting a tracking URL/script before your affiliate link? Like...
Just wondering if a tracking script would negate the blocker.
I found it at:
I would like to know if it overcomes the problem of commission junction links not appearing on sites with Kazaa its called eZula & Surf+ Script Killer
Since SuperTrick and others actually alter the local HOSTS file, that script will not affect them in any way.
What this code does is cause your page to reload, [...]
What needs to happen to get around ST and others is to resolve affiliate servers, server side, and avoid the local lookup though the client's altered HOSTS file.
E.g., you have a an affiliate link,
Instead you do:
Not tested, but I'm pretty certain that would get around ST and others.
BTW, here is the content of that script:
I ran the green widget example from MonkeeSage past one of my more technical affiliates and he said:
"For the end user to get there and the affiliate cookie to be set, the end user's pc still has to resolve the domain name. I have no idea what this is supposed to be doing, because "resolviong affiliates servers, server side" makes no sense when you are discussing setting a cookie on the client machine.
Server side redirects still need to be resolved locally.
So no. This will do nothing."
I don't know if he's right - I'm not that technical - just trying to share info that could help protect affiliate cookies for the good of all.
Keep sharing. There has to be a solution out there.
My solution was in response to ebess's problem:
"WELL. It turns out that Supertrick does a whole lot more than blocking popups. It blocks all images served from sites like Linkshare, Commission Junction, and BeFree. EVEN WORSE, it even prevents your sponsor sites from loading if someone chooses to click on your affiliate links (text or otherwise) -- if someone clicks the link, it comes back with a "Cannot find server" error.
[...] I'm sure that when they get a 'cannot find server' error, they don't realize that this is being caused by Supertrick. They would need to go into their HOST file on their computer to see that things like www.qksrv.net, etc are being blocked, and even then how would the average Joe know that qksrv.net has anything to do with the sponsor site they are trying to reach?
[...] Is there any way to override it? For example, could you use some sort of url redirection program to prevent the software from knowing that the site you are visiting came through the commission junction network?"
Doing the lookups server side and embedding the IPs instead of the domain names, will negate the need for a client side lookup, bypassing the HOST file, as I understand things. Clients don't do reverse lookups by default. I have no idea about tracking cookies or anything, so I'm not sure if it would get around the need to do lookups for cookies (not sure why it wouldn't, if they are set with the IP served up from the server). Would never know unless it was tried. :)
"Linda, the asp masking thing you posted or a redirect script will not really work for what you've stated. At some point, the network server still gets called and that's when the cookie is set and hence blocked. It would probably cause the impression tracking cookies not to be blocked, but the actual sales tracking cookies would still be blocked. Masking or not, at some point the qksrv servers have to be called and at that point, the blockers/etc will do their deed."
I still think there has to be a solution. There are a ton of programs out there that block affiliate links and, or cookies including even some personal firewalls or so I am told. If we keep trying and sharing maybe we will find a solution.